Punchline Magazine Sits Down With Comic Greg Fitzsimmons

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Looking for a break from humping space poodles, time-traveling monkeys, and a dude whose best friend is his penis? This video, Punchline Magazine’s interview with stand up veteran Greg Fitzsimmons, is a refreshing change of pace.

We get a glimpse into Greg’s evolution into a successful performer, and it’s not as horrifying a process as one might imagine. While promoting his first book, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox, Greg touches on his Irish childhood, his love for Letterman, and the time when he totally hugged Faith Hill. This clip is interesting, illuminating, and startlingly insightful for something you’ll find here on Atom.

Take a look:

Nick Swardson

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Greg and Mike welcome Nick Swardson to this weeks podcast where the guys compare their respective ping pong skill levels, Greg lightens the mood joking about Nick’s fathers death, and Nick shows off his Minnesota shaped jewelry. Nick throws out a hypothetical about a vagina, Greg gets called a honky by a white chick, they take your Overheards, and Nick describes losing a brand new Audi for two weeks.

DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST – Click HERE to download the podcast directly, or do yourself a favor and Click HERE to subscribe on iTunes.

Comedy Central Insider Interview

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Comedy Central Insider – November 17th – Gonzalo Cordova

Greg Fitzsimmons started doing stand up in Boston but moved to New York shortly thereafter. He made his stand-up television debut in 1996 on Late Show with David Letterman and since that time has steadily honed his Irish sensibilities onstage, appearing on multiple other shows and networks in the process. He just released his new book, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox, a personal yet funny memoir shaped around the letters and documents his mother kept from throughout his life. I spoke with Greg over the phone about the book, his stand-up and more.

When I heard about the book, I figured it would be about stand-up and your early years, but it’s actually more about your relationship with your parents.

I think there a lot of comedians with books out there and people go different ways with it. With me being Irish, I felt compelled to go deep into the heavy stuff as well as how I became a comedian and try to put funny stuff in it.

There are a lot of moments that are like origin tales of how you became a comedian, but it’s more in very early stages. You have stuff about your first open mics, but the book has more material about the things influencing you to get into comedy.

I was trying to get to what shaped my personality. Where the pain came from, where the excitement came from. The dynamic of comedians butting up against the line of what’s acceptable and dangerous. I didn’t really get into the fact that I have ADHD in the book. I almost feel like that’s the next book. I think that it’s as much about circumstance as it is about DNA almost.

You feel like it was more DNA that influenced you to become a comedian?

I think it’s both. In that last chapter, when I get into what my kids are like, the punchline is that there’s only so much you can really change.

You mention in the book that your father would maybe have been a comedian had he been born in a different time. He was in radio and was an entertainer, but he probably would have been closer to what you do.

I think so. In watching him, the part of him I saw more was when he would MC things. Seeing his personality up close. That was the thing I saw where the dynamic was really working. I always felt like he was a great radio guy, but that was a bottled version of his personality. When I started watching stand up as a kid, it was like it took more balls. But it was also available to me in a way that wasn’t in his generation. I think Irish storytelling, whether in the radio or in a comedy club is very similar. When I do my radio show, I don’t approach it any different than I approach stand-up. I just take longer pauses, because I’m alone and it’s a slower pace.

You’ve mentioned there are two kinds of comedians, the kind who try to cater to audiences and the kind that come with their own point of view.

I have comedians who come up to me and are starting out, or not even starting out, like they haven’t even done it yet, and they ask me how to get started, how you can make money, how to get an agent. Guys that have been doing it for a year or two asking me how to make it on Last Comic Standing so they can get exposure. What are you trying to expose? You got nothing to expose yet. It takes fifteen years to get really good at stand-up.

It was never about the money to me. It was about having to do it. It was like nothing else would hold my attention and my passion the way I knew stand-up would. It was never like, I am going to do this forever for a career. It was more like, at this moment, in my life, I have to do this thing. And then you look up, twenty years later, and you’re like, “Oh my God. I have a mortgage and a wife and kids and cars and we go on family vacations. And it’s all paid for by me telling dicks jokes to people eating chicken wings.”

How important do you think going out on the road, rather than just staying local, shapes a comic?

I think the fear level when you’re on the road recreates the origins of comedy. Mostly we’re funny as a reaction to an uncomfortable situation. Whether Dad’s dead drunk and everyone’s at the dinner table, or you’re screwing up in school so you get a laugh to get some acceptance instead of looking like a failure all the time, asking a girl out and she says no and then you’re laughing about it with your friends, a lot of it comes from an uncomfortable place.

When you say “staying local,” I almost think of the words “alternative comedy.” It’s really an alternative to commercial comedy. I think that’s a pretty accepted definition of what the genre is. To me there’s not a lot of fear with that. I do these alternative shows and it’s filled with like-minded, for lack of a better word, hipsters, who are white and college educated, urban-cool. It’s a clique. As opposed to going on the road and facing people who have worked jobs they don’t like all week, and now it’s the weekend and they need a laugh. And they are spending money. Your job is to go up there in front of a cross-section of real America and to get a laugh first. You’re not there to talk politics. You’re not there to say ironic things about pop culture, because people don’t give a shit about that outside of New York and LA. And granted, you might make a point, which I think I do because I talk about things that are truthful to me and things I am feeling, but I feel like staying in a city as a comedian doesn’t demand you to go to a place where you can grow as a comic.

When people first start doing road work, it can almost be like starting over. Like starting at mics and bombing again.

There’s a lot of other factors. You can talk about going onstage, you also have to get the gig, which means hustling, sending a tape, following up with calls, emails, getting someone to recommend you. Then you get the gig; you’re on a tight budget. When you’re a feature act, you’re only making five, six, seven hundred bucks a week. And that includes getting yourself to another city, sometimes housing yourself, finding a friend to stay with. Then you have to find transportation. Then you have to get to the club and you have to do the right thing with the manager and the headliner. There’s a lot of do’s and don’ts to learn. It’s real life. It’s not like being in LA: you drive your car to a coffee house, and you schmooze with your buddies in the back, and you do ten minutes, and you crack up some people like you. This is the real world, on the road. You have to learn to do morning radio, get up at five o’clock in the morning and sit in the studio with a bunch of shock jocks while they are trying to be funnier than you are. And are you going to drink too much or are you going to write material. It’s a bunch of dynamics in place that go way beyond the material and the crowd.

You started around the comedy boom. You write about doing eight sets a night, which isn’t really how it works now. Do you think that environment, doing that many sets, might have created a certain kind of comic we don’t see anymore?

I have to always be careful not to compare comedians starting today with how I started, because I was extremely fortunate to start right in the sweet spot when legitimate clubs came up in a lot of cities and the pay-scale was good because there was almost more demand than there was product.

Doing that number of spots is pretty specific to New York City. When I was in Boston, I would maybe do three sets a night, which is all I could do because I would drive from place to place. And in New York, I just did Letterman last week, and I ran out on the weekend before, and I did five, six, seven sets a night at the club, just doing my five-minute set. It’s still possible, and it still comes down to, again, a demand.

If you are a comic and you’re just starting out, but you can consistently go onstage and keep an audience’s attention and close strong, you’re going to get work. You’re going to get sets. You’re going to start out doing it for free in places with ten people, but you’re going to be meeting people. Like when I came up, I was struggling, and I was coming up at the same time as Jim Gaffigan, Sarah Silverman, Greg Giraldo and Jeffrey Ross. And we were just telling each other about coffee houses up by Columbia University where you can do a set. We would tell each other about places that would let us get on. That was it.

And you can form a bond with these people that, to this day, I can call these people to come in and do my podcast or my radio show and we still compare notes. Again, it’s not always what goes onstage, but when you’re doing it and you’re coming from the right place, the love of stand up, you find like-minded people and that’s a big part of what supports your career.

Is it different now that people are starting to have families and having kids among the people you started with?

We don’t see each other as often, but it’s very meaningful when we do. Giraldo dying is something that impacted us almost as much as a family member. Because there’s that piece of your life and that shared history. It’s hard to understand that it’s just gone. I will never have a history with a group of people like I did with the ones I came up with.

It’s very hard when you have a family, you don’t have downtime to hang out. When I do a set now, like at The Improv, I’ll get there five minutes before my set, and I will literally get offstage and put my head down and walk through the bear area, because I just don’t have time to hang out and talk to people. I need to get home, because I’m on the road so much that if I’m going to do a set in town, it’s just do the set in town.

That’s why I love benefits, because you’ll go and you’re helping out a good cause, but you’re with your peers. When you’re on the road, it’s with an opener you don’t know and a feature act you may or may not know. But when I do a benefit, I’m there with Dave Attell and Louis CK and people that I cherish every moment that we’re hanging out and talking together.

You’ve mentioned that being edgy to you isn’t just being racist, it actually comes from being honest and saying things you’d be embarrassed to say.

I think there’s shocking and I think there’s edgy. Edgy to me seems against convention. It’s not caring about the rules, including like when I started talking about my kids, when Louis CK started doing jokes about his wife and kids. People didn’t do that, because that was considered old school. It wasn’t cool. It showed your age. It showed you not being edgy. The truth is, the only thing that matters is you’re talking about what’s going on in your life. You’re sharing your embarrassing moments, and you’re exploring your discoveries in life as you’re having them. Whether or not you think people will relate to them doesn’t matter. All that matters is you’re going as deep as you can into your own reality. And at this point, having the skills to make a connection to an audience. So edginess to me means, every time I go onstage, thinking, “What can I talk about that I would be embarrassed telling my best friend?” That’s my criteria for where a good joke is going to start.

Not that every joke is going to start with that. Some of the thoughts are like, man, no one has ever talked about this. Like I was doing a bit this weekend about the NAACP calling the Tea Party racist. Which, it is, but I think the Tea Party missed an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, we feel really bad about that. Let us make it up to you by writing a check to your organization. How do you spell ‘colored’ again?’

And saying the word “colored” onstage in front of a mixed audience, that’s edgy. It’s not shock value, because there’s a specific and truthful intent, which is, I hate the word police. I don’t think semantics should be on the table in terms of race relations. I think the people that put it there are the ones creating the real problems. And deciding what groups can say what about who and when a term changes from negro to colored to Afro-America to African American to black. It’s like they should have a website where every thirty seconds, you can go look and see, “Can a Latino say the N-word? Well, yes, but only if they’re urban but not an immigrant. And an immigrant needs to be called Latino, not Mexican. But not Hispanic, because they’re not all from Spain.” And it’s bullshit.

A comedian’s job is to say their first thought. When I see a black guy with an Asian woman, what’s my first thought? “Well, maybe they met during war time.” And that’s stupid and simple, but I thought it. If I thought it, I can say it onstage, and I can explore my reaction to what I said. But I realize that’s stupid, but in saying it I’m probably expressing something that other people also thought but never had the guts to say.

There’s something edgier to you admitting to having a racist thought over making an ironic racist joke.

It’s very safe to make an ironic racist joke. It’s very wink-wink, I’m playing a character, I’m exploiting this, as opposed to, here’s a very real thing that I see out there. When I see an Asian guy, I feel like, “This poor bastard.” Because Asian woman are dating white guys and black guys. It’s very, very rare to see an Asian guy out with a black woman or a white woman. Now that’s something we see and how much we process it really depends on how often you see it. But there is a level to which everyone has seen that. And I know that because when I say it, people laugh. And when I say it, the Asian people in the audience laugh the hardest. I’m not in the business to change people’s minds and to make the world a better place. I’m just in the business to have original thoughts and to find a creative way to express something and to hear laughter. That’s it.

Do you think there’s a bit of a tension breaking there causing that laugh?

I think when a guy in a wheelchair is in the front there because that’s the only place they can place him, at some level, that guy has to be aware people are looking at him, not just as a guy, but as a guy in a wheelchair. So when I walk out and go, “Wow, you have the beast seat in the house, because if you don’t like where you are, you can always move,” that’s something acknowledging the reality of what’s happening in a room. That’s what good comedy is. It’s like good acting. It’s being in the moment. It’s being truthful.

At the end of the hour, I can take a crowd that may have a whole different bunch of dynamics going on; someone’s on a first date, there’s a bachelorette party, there’s a mixed-race couple, and everyone has a different agenda for what’s funny—but if I can go and break apart things and be honest about things, I can feel them gelling and becoming one group for the hour. It might take me five minutes, it make take me forty minutes to try to break those walls down, until it’s almost like a herd of cattle. And you have them all moving in the same direction as a group. And it carries you. There’s nothing I can say that won’t get a laugh or keep their interest, because I’ve broken the walls down, and I’ve done it in a way that broke the tension. Now they trust me and they trust that I’m going to go to some uncomfortable places, like death, AIDS, 9/11 and topics not discussed, where tension is buried in. And by confidently bringing them through and getting a laugh with it, the trust keeps building and building. So by the end, it’s an amazing feeling. Almost like diving into a crowd and having them pass your body around. That’s what it feels like by the end of it.

Jordan, Jesse, Go! Interview Greg

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Jesse Thorn and Jordan Morris of interviewed Greg for their “Jordan, Jesse, Go!” podcast. They talk about the Sunset Strip, getting in fights and more in a episode titled “Cocaine Disneyland”.

Click HERE to listen now.

LA-ist Interview: Greg Fitzsimmons

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LAist had the chance to check in with comedian/radio personality/Emmy Award winning writer Greg Fitzsimmons last night as he drove to Hollywood from the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino where he earned a standing ovation. Driving from the desert to Hollywood isn’t something the Venice Beach resident does on a regular basis, luckily we had access to Google Maps serving as interviewer/navigator to Greg on his journey. The drive to Saturday’s show at the Gibson Amphitheater will, fortunately, be a much shorter one for the former writer/producer of The Ellen Degeneres Show. While driving the 610 to the 10 to 101, the Bronx native shared his thoughts on the LA comedy scene, his radio show, hosting the AVN Awards and Dave Navarro.

Saturday you’re performing at the Gibson Amphitheater with Artie Lange and Nick DiPaolo, do you enjoy the bigger crowds more than the comedy club crowds?

Stand up is like working out, you have to mix it up. That helps you stay sharp. I like small crowds and small clubs, your set can be like stream of conscience. When you’re playing the bigger venues you have to have a more polished set. The rewards for doing the bigger venues are great though. You don’t get standing ovations at clubs. When that happens like it did tonight, man it feels pretty fucking good.

You work with Artie and Nick DiPaolo quite a bit. How much do you enjoy working with those guys?

Actually, I haven’t done a whole lot of shows with Artie. I’d say I’ve done maybe a half a dozen shows with Artie. I’m doing these two this week though. Its nice working with Artie. I do one night or two nights and I then I get to go home. Working with Artie and Nick is like hanging out friends. Artie and Nick are friends of mine. Get to actually talk to them and hang out instead of just sitting around by myself like most shows I do.

You have your own radio show on Sirius, now on Howard Stern’s network. How has the show helped with you stand-up?

I love doing the show. I really benefit from the radio show, I don’t have to deal with the “Fuck you bring out Artie” reaction from the crowd some openers might get. Tonight’s show was Artie’s crowd, but working on Howard’s network has helped introduce me to his audience. The show, Howard and Sirius have been great to me. I don’t think there is a better place to be on radio than Sirius.

For the most part the show is basically a radio show about comedy, with interviews with comedians. Do you think the show will evolve into something else?

I think because it’s only an hour-long show I haven’t really been trying to stretch myself. Right now, I’m sticking to what I know and who I know. The biggest name people I can get are comedians, because those are the people I know. Comedians are honest and intelligent, so they make for a good show. I think on my show they can be in the moment and not have to do material. I really like my guests and I know my guests, and so I am asking questions that I already know the answers to, I guess that isn’t exactly the best way to interview someone. I’d like to have people that I don’t know on the show. Sirius has said they can help me get big names outside of comedy, so I’m looking forward to getting some of those kinds of guests on the show. I am enjoying doing radio, my dad (Bob Fitzsimmons) was a radio personality in New York. It’s funny because Howard used to shit on my dad, back then, so he wasn’t the most popular person in our house. It’s very ironic that I am now on Howard’s network.

You hosted the AVN Awards which were shot in Las Vegas in January, and have just recently popped up Showtime. Why such a delay in getting it on TV?

What’s the most challenging aspect of hosting the AVNs?
I don’t know why there was that much of a lag. I know Showtime didn’t publicize it all. But you know people are going to watch. If you’re cruising through the channels on your TV at 3am, you are definitely going to stop and watch. I really wanted to do a smart gig but these aren’t exactly Rhodes Scholars in the crowd. They’re porn stars. But I also wanted to play to the crowd at home. I had done the show two years ago and really liked it and the crowd was surprisingly cool. I was asked to do it again, I knew it was going to be on Showtime and it was the 25th anniversary so I really wanted to do it. Showtime has become a good place for comedy. So I went about hosting it as if I were doing an hour set on Showtime. I wanted to do a set that I’d be proud of, that just so happens to be at the porn convention.

Tell me a little more about what’s up with you and Dave Navarro?

I don’t know what that guy’s deal is. He manages porn stars and directs or something. He was there at the AVNs hosting the red carpet show. I am on stage hosting and he is in the front row, right in front of me. There he is sitting with his ¾ length leather coat and sunglasses with arms crossed and he won’t even look in my direction. I just found it really disrespectful, from one performer to another. So I went on Stern and called him a piece of shit. I called him the “Mexican Prince.” I called a few other names. When he went on the Stern show a week or two later, Stern played him the clips of me talking about him. Then he said some shit about me. So ever since then I have said it on my show, on Howard’s show on a few other things that I’m challenging him to a fight, boxing, mixed martial arts, whatever. We can do it on Pay Per View. I want to take out all my aggression and anger I have towards the cool LA guys, which is exactly what he is. The guys in LA are pussies, with their bleached hair and their contrived code words they use. Cool in LA is the total opposite of New York cool. Cool in New York is being open minded and being smart. Out here it’s all about just conforming and going with the crowd. I’d love to fight him, but he doesn’t have the balls. The only contact I’ve had with him since is an email from his publicist asking me to come on his Internet radio show. My response to the email was “Pass. Tell Dave to see me in the ring.”

Speaking of LA, there is a lot of talk about the differences between the New York comedy scene and the LA comedy scene. As a New Yorker living in LA what do you think of the comedy scene here? When do you think is the right time for a New Yorker to make the move out here? 

If you decide that you have to come out here, then I think the longer you wait – the better. This is the marketplace, so when you get out here you should have already established yourself. You’re lucky in LA if you can do two sets a night. You can’t work out like you do in New York. For one, the clubs are further apart so it’s harder to get from club to club, that makes it harder to stay sharp out here. In New York you can get in seven sets in a night. I can’t name a comic who made it, starting out here. Nothing against the comics from here, it has more to do with the obstacles I just mentioned. Also, I think a comic who started in LA will have a harder time connecting to a broader range of people because they’ve been preaching to the converted their whole career. I don’t know if they are going to get the same laughs in the middle of the country as they would out here.

Why are a lot of the comedy shows in town run by comics who are just starting out or comics who aren’t very good?

It’s part of struggling as a comic. When you’re starting out, comedy is a lot like running your own business. You have to be your own manager, be your own publicist, be your own agent. You have to find a way to get stage time. When I was starting out in Boston, I hosted a “Hot Legs” contest in a crack bar in Allston. Running your own comedy night is a good way to go out there and find your audience and find your voice. I recommend it. You don’t want to miss out on that experience, as someone who’s done it, let me tell you it’s really fucking humbling. You have to go out and find your own audience. The more sets you can do the more you’re going to get crowds coming in who know what you do. You’re not stepping out in front of 200 complete strangers, and there’s nothing harder than that. Getting out there allows you to sort of continue where you left off, rather than having to introduce yourself.

What rooms do you enjoy working here in LA? 

I like doing the Improv for trying out new material. It’s a good set up and a good room. The Laugh Factory on the weekend is very high energy. You can kill there. I like doing the M Bar, I haven’t done it in a while but I like it there.

You can hear the Greg Fitzsimmons Show on Sirius Satellite Radio’s Howard 101 every Monday.

Philadelphia City Paper – Holy Jokes

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Helium Comedy Club

Greg Fitzsimmons is a pretty successful guy. He’s starred in two Comedy Central specials, is a regular on Best Week Ever and Letterman and has four Daytime Emmys courtesy of his work on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. But that’s nothing a little Irish Catholic guilt can’t undo. The comedian dishes about the puzzling self-hate that fuels his career and his own personal hell.

City Paper: What have your appearances on Best Week Ever taught you about America’s celebrity obsession?

Greg Fitzsimmons: It’s a way of thinking there’s an easy way out in scary times. We have to believe that there’s a better class of being than the one we’re in. Essentially, we’re very conscious of class in this country because we come from this shame-based European mind-set where the king and the queen were good and the peasants were bad.

CP: What’s your own family history?

GF: My grandparents are from Ireland. We’re a close family with a lot of pride about being Irish. They really practice what the church preaches, like quietly giving to charity and being good to strangers.

CP: Is your own relationship with the church holding up?

GF: It was good for a lot of years, but then I fell out of it. Ultimately, I saw that at the foundation of the church is a need for a lower class that feels ashamed in order to believe that there’s a better place for you later so that you’ll put up with all the bullshit.

CP: Is that something you dealt with growing up?

GF: I’m still ashamed. I hate myself. I hate my body, I hate the way I stink, I hate how I think that I’m selfish and that I’m not a good person, and all these things that aren’t really true. That’s why I’m a comedian. We just hate ourselves. I’ve got a beautiful wife, two healthy kids. I make a great living doing what I want, I do a ton of charity work, I’m good to every stranger that I meet — but that’s in a cognizant moment. Underneath it all, it’s all a reaction to trying to be better because I feel like a piece of garbage.

CP: What would be hell to you?

GF: If you commit horrible atrocities, you’re given a microphone at midnight on a Friday at the Greenbay Chucklehut and forced to do 45 minutes. Then you’ve got to sell your CDs to that same group of Packers fans as they come out chain smoking and licking the grease off their fingers from the bottomless bucket of fried chicken wings that they just ate.

CP: What direction would you like to see the church go in?

GF: They should acknowledge that we’re all part of one human race and that all religions are essentially saying the same thing: forgiveness, the submission of the self for the good of others, charity and love.

CP: But what will people argue about then?

GF: I guess we’d have to go with football, and if it weren’t football season we’d be lost for a while. So, you’re right, scratch that.

Sam Simon

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Greg and Mike Gibbons welcome legend Sam Simon to this week’s podcast. Mike Gibbons opens the show with the daily news, they talk about Randy Quaid and is wife going crazy, and Sam talks about punching a guy at a poker table. Sam comments on the Howard Stern / Greg Fitzsimmons book forward controversy, the group agrees Steve Martin’s tweets are disappointing, they trade Norm MacDonald gambling stories, take your overheards, and Sam exposes online poker.

DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST – Click HERE to download the podcast directly, or do yourself a favor and Click HERE to subscribe on iTunes.

Bill Burr Welcomes Greg To His “Monday Morning Podcast”

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Greg sat down with Bill Burr for his “Monday Morning Podcast“. Check it out HERE

The Nerdist, Chris Hardwick

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Greg and Chris Hardwick

Chris Hardwick shares the secrets of being a geek who is a winner and explains how to organize your life so you too can be a successful geek. Greg’s lack of any rude comments can only be attributed to Chris Hardwick being an extremely nice guy (or someone who just acts like a nice guy all the time but is not really).

DOWNLOAD THE PODCAST – Click HERE to download the podcast directly, or do yourself a favor and Click HERE to subscribe on iTunes.

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